SAITAMA — Masashi Motoyama salvaged a point in the final minute of injury time as Kashima Antlers snatched a 1-1 draw with Urawa Reds on Saturday night.
Urawa’s Robson Ponte thought he had made himself the hero of the night when he broke open a tense match at Saitama Stadium in the 80th minute, but substitute Motoyama pounced in the 95th minute to stop the defending champions from falling even further behind in the title race.
Mu Kanazaki scored as league-leader Nagoya Grampus beat Kyoto Sanga 1-0 to stay five points ahead of Cerezo Osaka — 2-0 winners over Omiya Ardija — and Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira had mixed feelings after seeing his side slip seven points off the pace.
“I think it would have been very bad for us if we had lost, because we had control,” he said. “That’s not surprising because I think at this moment Kashima is better than Urawa. We should win the game. But in this situation, a point is good.”
Kashima striker Marquinhos also had a second-half penalty brilliantly saved by Norihiro Yamagishi with the match scoreless, but Oliveira was thankful to have Motoyama recovered from injury enough to come off the bench and make the difference.
“I’m very happy because Motoyama isn’t ready to play 90 minutes,” he said. “He is a fundamental player for our team. He’s not ready to play, but when he comes in he changes everything. He’s very intelligent and he can move the team.”
Edmilson thought he had given Reds the lead when he touched on a Ponte free kick in the 37th minute, but his header bounced against the post and gave goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata time to collect.
It was a rare moment of goalmouth action in an otherwise uneventful first half, but it did not take long after the interval for controversy to surface. World Cup referee Yuichi Nishimura waved away Urawa’s penalty claims after Genki Haraguchi went down under Daiki Iwamasa’s challenge, but the official had no hesitation when Shinzo Koroki hit the deck five minutes later.
Marquinhos, returning to action after three games out injured, saw Yamagishi save his spot kick with a low dive to his right, before the Brazilian was denied again when his header came back off the underside of the bar.
Yamagishi excelled himself again with a fingertip save from Mitsuo Ogasawara minutes later, but the home side refused to buckle under Kashima’s constant pressure. Instead Tomoya Ugajin hit the bar as Reds came roaring back, and the tide turned completely when Ponte curled a delicious shot from the edge of the box for the opening goal.
Ugajin was stretchered off after colliding with the post in search of a second, but instead it was Antlers who found the target when the ball broke for Motoyama to side-foot a measured strike past Yamagishi.
The match was Kashima’s fifth in a row without a win, however, leaving Oliveira to lament the summer sales that have deprived him of key players Atsuto Uchida and Lee Jung Soo.
“We miss them because the other teams have grown,” he said. “They have brought in new players and at Kashima it has been the opposite. It’s difficult.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Vegalta Sendai won 2-1 to heap further misery on lowly Shonan Bellmare, while FC Tokyo’s slump continued with a 0-0 draw with Vissel Kobe.
Croatian Mihael Mikic hit the winner as Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Montedio Yamagata in the day’s other game.
Yano deal done
NIIGATA (Kyodo) Albirex Niigata officially announced on Saturday that Japan international striker Kisho Yano has joined Bundesliga club Freiburg.
“It has been my dream since turning pro to get a move overseas,” Yano, who left for Germany on Thursday before striking a deal the next day, said in a statement released by the J. League first-division club.
“I want to place myself in a more competitive environment and I feel I have to try and grow as both a player and a person,” added the 26-year-old.
The terms of the deal for Yano, who suited up as a substitute at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, have not been disclosed and no news conference has been scheduled.